Saturday, December 13, 2014

Artist Tip #31 - Treatment at the Edge

I've mentioned before that we realistic painters are in the illusion business - we're magicians.  We "represent" a limitless, 3-dimensional, moving reality in a 2-dimensional, limited-size, stationary painting.  Unlike nature, the surface to which we apply paint, called a "ground" - paper, canvas, wood, etc. - has a limit, or "frame".  Once we make a positive shape within its rectangle, we have automatically created negative shapes around that positive shape, and these are also very important.

One of our goals as artists is to entertain the viewer, and keep his/her eyes on our painting as long as possible.  How we handle the edges of our painting can affect this.  In particular, it's helpful to avoid running long oblique lines off the lower edge of the painting, and to avoid having a white or bright area at the edge of the painting.  These little tricks help to keep the viewer's eyes inside our painting, rather than running off its edge.

Here is an example where I tried to avoid these two things.  The long upper edge of the dirt road was run off the side, rather than the bottom or corner, of the painting.  And the shadow in the foreground over the light-valued road acts as a "block" to keep the eye from wandering off the bottom of the painting:

Another design issue to be wary of is to avoid having the edge of a shape near and parallel to the edge of the painting, with a small empty space between the shape and the edge.  This tends to draw attention to the edge, which is not where we want our viewer's eyes to be focused.  One should either separate the object from the edge and "lean" it so it is not parallel to the edge, or overlap it with the edge of the painting.  This painting shows the latter approach, where the vertical tree at the edge of the painting has been overlapped with the edge, thus becoming a visual "stop" to keep the viewer's eyes within the painting:

Finally, in general it is good to run shapes off the edge of the painting, to make the edge seem less "real".  Often in beginner's paintings we see trees "stunted" to force their entire crown to fit inside the painting frame, and the artificial look this creates.  The first painting above shows how running trees off the top of the painting looks more natural; it appears that we are looking at the scene through a window.  This same idea applies to anything tall, including sails and ship masts, as in the images below:

I hope you found this artist tip useful.  If you'd like to get artist and art collector tips like this delivered directly to your inbox every few weeks, sign up for my fine art e-newsletter here!  When you subscribe, you'll receive a 10% instant rebate valid for one month for any of my paintings.


Ann Sharkey said...

I really like this post. I know these things, but tend to forget as I am drawing. Thanks for a great article.

Jim Oberst said...

Ann, I think most of us "know more than we can do". Glad you found the post useful. Jim.